Why Are The Citizens of Tacoma Fighting LNG?

Photo Copyright © 2016 Andrew Elizaga

Demonstration against LNG and the Dakota Access Pipeline, Tacoma, November 12, 2016. Photo Copyright © 2016 Andrew Elizaga

Redline, the grassroots Tacoma organization behind the outrageously successful campaign to stop construction of the largest methanol refinery in the world, has a new campaign against Puget Sound Energy’s proposed Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) production plant which will occupy the space at the entrance to the Hylebos Waterway off of Commencement Bay. The facility will convert natural gas to LNG and store it in a tank nearly as tall as the Tacoma Dome. PSE plans to use the facility to sell LNG as marine fuel, and to store LNG when natural gas prices are low, to be sold to customers when prices are high, a practice known as “peak shaving”. The production plant will be supplied by a 4-mile pipeline which will be built in Tacoma and Fife through land owned by the Puyallup Tribe, which is currently attempting to stop the project by appealing the permits granted for the project’s shoreline development aspects.

LNG is being sold to the public as a cleaner, cheaper, transitional fuel that will be used to wean us off coal and oil-based fuels. Ships, trucks, and locomotives will be eventually be retrofitted to run off of natural gas. Although it burns with less greenhouse gas emissions, methane itself is a potent greenhouse gas, and leaks during extraction and pipeline transport can be significant. Puget Sound Energy expects that 50 to 60% of the natural gas supplied to their LNG facility will obtained by fracking, and there is mounting evidence that, when the greenhouse gas emissions related to the fracking process, transmission, liquefaction, storage, and conversion back to natural gas are taken into account, greenhouse gas emissions are actually increased. And when one considers the amount of fresh water used in the hydraulic fracking process, the contamination of ground water by fracking, and inevitable pipeline leaks, it is questionable whether there really is any net environmental benefit to using LNG. Nevertheless, natural gas is poised to capture a larger share of the world’s energy demand, and a huge amount of energy and expense is being invested into building a nationwide LNG infrastructure—a network of pipelines and LNG facilities likely to establish LNG as the preferred fuel for ships, trucks, and trains for decades to come.

Below are transcripts of the interviews we conducted with activists Valerie Peaphon, Julia Minugh, and Richard Lovering, as well as the text of a speech that activist Roxy Murray gave at the “No Fracked Gas In The Port Of Tacoma” rally organized by Tacoma Direct Action in front of the Puget Sound Energy on December 22, 2016. Parts of these interviews are featured in our video “NO LNG: A Christmas Carol”.

Photo Copyright © 2016 Andrew Elizaga
Demonstration against LNG and the Dakota Access Pipeline, Tacoma, November 12, 2016. Photo Copyright © 2016 Andrew Elizaga


VALERIE PEAPHON interviewed by Richard Lovering

Valerie: I’m out here tonight on a cold and dark Thursday to protest LNG — the LNG facility that Puget Sound Energy wants to build at the Port of Tacoma. I’m one of many, many Tacomans concerned about the effects this project could have on the environment and on our community. There are a number of dangers associated with liquified natural gas. They typically aren’t built in metropolitan areas, and they want to put this one near neighborhoods, schools, hospitals, childcare facilities, and so we think it is dangerous.

But even above and beyond that sort of “Not In My Back Yard” argument, there’s a bigger risk that natural gas poses, and that’s the fact that it’s a false transition. It is going to encourage fracking, which science has already demonstrated is devastating to the earth.

Puget Sound Energy a couple of months ago was actually bragging on their website that they were going to get 50 or 60% of the natural gas from fracking in Colorado, from the Rockies and Canada. And when we started to push back and say, “Whoa, fracking isn’t good! This is a reason for us to oppose it,” they immediately took that off of their website. I have a screenshot of it that I’ve kept.

They’ve just are sort of giving a lot of half truths. They are not sharing information. And when just regular citizens are trying to get information, they have actually filed lawsuits against them. They are claiming federal statutes that don’t apply under FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] and they don’t currently have all of the permits needed, My understanding is they don’t have the fire permit. They haven’t even applied for it, even though they have already begun to break ground. And so we’re hoping that that is an avenue where we can shut the project down, that the fire department will see that the risks are too great to allow this sort of thing in this sort of metropolitan area.

Richard: Do you think that it’s going to impact real estate values or people’s interest in moving to Tacoma?

Valerie: Sure, so we’ve done a lot of research and we do believe that if this is built, it’s going to negatively impact real estate prices. Homes in the immediate area are going to go down in value. There is going to be an exodus of a lot of the academia, the artistic community—people that don’t want to live near that. And so we think it is going to have a negative economic impact almost immediately. We already know people who have said, “I am going to move”. And there are already people that have put their house up for sale or have moved as a result of the methanol refinery proposal, which actually didn’t go through but did have real consequences, just the fact that they were threatening to put it in Tacoma. So absolutely we think this is going to have real dire economic consequences in Tacoma.

Richard: What do you think the politics of this thing are? In other words, what about the Port and what about the City Council?

Valerie: I think that there has been an awakening in Tacoma, and it’s been one of disappointment and disillusionment, because we have seen that the Port of Tacoma, the City of Tacoma, the City Council, that our elected leaders aren’t necessarily promoting the ideas and beliefs that their citizens, their residents hold. Instead they seem to be very pro-big business, in this case, pro-fossil fuel, which we know is a dead end. And they’re looking to locking us in to a 50-year lease to something that everybody else is moving away from. People should not be investing in these fossil fuels. They should be looking at renewable, green, clean energy. Tacoma is sort of stuck in the past, or looking toward the past to plan out their future.

I think there are going to be consequences. There are a number of seats open in the next year, including on the City Council and on the Port, so hopefully we can get some people in there that are progressively minded and environmentally minded who aren’t going to be swayed by some fancy brochures from a million-billion dollar fossil fuel company, because really we shouldn’t be building new infrastructure. We need to find a way to keep oil, coal, and gas in the ground, not build new plants that are going to perpetuate the use of these fossil fuels that damage the environment locally and the planet globally for years and years to come.

Richard: Where do you suppose those candidates are going to come from?

Valerie: I’m not sure. I don’t have political aspirations, and so I ‘m hoping that it just comes from the grassroots movement and citizens, people who are saying, “I want to be involved. Hey I could do that. I have ideas.” And I think we are starting to hear about some people think about it. I haven’t heard any definitive applicants or volunteers or anything like that yet, but we have a little bit of time, so hopefully some people rise to the occasion.

Photo Copyright © 2016 Andrew Elizaga
Demonstration against LNG and the Dakota Access Pipeline, Tacoma, November 12, 2016. Photo Copyright © 2016 Andrew Elizaga


JULIA MINUGH interviewed by Richard Lovering

Richard: How did you get involved in this?

Julia: Well, I am a member of the Puyallup Tribe. I’ve always been concerned about how the government has treated the Native American people. And I really got involved in Standing Rock. I didn’t go there, but I was doing everything I could at home to support them. Then this came up, and it’s right off of the reservation boundaries. The tribe has gone to court to fight this, but the court and the other people in the city don’t seem to realize what preserving the habitat is, or preserving the culture of the Native Americans. They just brush it off and come up with their own rules about what to do. They pretty much just say, “OK, we’ll consult with you, but we are going to do what we want.”

The Tribe has been against it. I’m not speaking for the tribe, this is just for me. But it’s just so disturbing that we are not treated like other people because we are native. We’ve been living in Tacoma, in Fife-—that’s all on the reservation. I mean we’ve been living with all these people and yet we are treated differently. So I think my main idea is that people should listen to the tribes. We’ve been taking care of this land since before the colonizers ever got here. You know that’s what we do—we are fish people. So we just want people to listen and honor our culture.

Photo Copyright © 2016 Andrew Elizaga
Demonstration against LNG and the Dakota Access Pipeline, Tacoma, November 12, 2016. Photo Copyright © 2016 Andrew Elizaga
Photo Copyright © 2016 Andrew Elizaga
A Native American woman burns sage in a purifying ritual at the demonstration against LNG and the Dakota Access Pipeline, Tacoma, November 12, 2016. Photo Copyright © 2016 Andrew Elizaga


Statement by ROXY MURRAY

Most of you know me. For those who don’t my name is Roxy, and I am an environmentalist, a photographer, and one pissed off Tacoma resident! What can I say that hasn’t already been said? Puget Sound Energy is threatening our water, our city, our planet, and our livelihood with the facility that would hold 8 million gallons of fracked liquified natural gas. They are breaking the law by already starting construction on the site. They do not have all their permits and they are currently in court with the Puyallup Tribe. This makes them corporate terrorists, and we don’t negotiate with terrorists!

We’ve wasted our precious time away from our families and work and projects to attend city council meetings, port meetings, and court hearings. We’ve spent more time than we care to writing letters to all of the key players. We have done everything right, but the system has failed the citizens of Tacoma and the Puyallup Tribe. And when systems stop working for the people and the planet we must take matters into our own hands. There is a quote by Mahatma Gandhi that I want to share with you: “Civil disobedience becomes a sacred duty when the state becomes lawless or corrupt”. Tacoma will not be a “Sacrifice Zone” for so-called “economic progress”. We’ve heard this statement constantly for a long time, because our brothers and sisters in Standing Rock are fighting, but we must keep saying it: Water is Life! Water is Life! Water is Life!


Photo Copyright © 2016 Andrew Elizaga
Richard Lovering. Demonstration against LNG and the Dakota Access Pipeline, Tacoma, November 12, 2016. Photo Copyright © 2016 Andrew Elizaga


After methanol (which we managed to drive the folks out of town) in the background there was LNG stealthily making its way across the permitting process. The upshot is that it is almost permitted now. They just lack a fire permit. It’s a disaster! Upstream, there is fracking to get this LNG, and then it gets piped in a gaseous state across many states with the risk of explosions. As a greenhouse gas, of course, methane is very bad. Very bad.  Like 80 times worse than CO2, depending upon whose statistics you quote. And so now all of a sudden Tacoma is faced with an existential threat in the form of an LNG plant—-a huge one. It is essentially going to be a gas station for the ships of the world. And it’s also going to send out its liquified natural gas in trucks and trains to boot. Now clearly at this point we need a supplementary environmental impact statement both because the scope of the project has changed, and also because people need to get involved, which is the very terror of PSE. They do not want to let Tacoma know about this thing or have a voice in objecting to it.

At this point the mayor, due to term limits, is about to step down. There’s going to be an election. What I’m trying to do is recruit candidates for City Council positions and the mayor and Port positions. It isn’t enough to just protest. We’ve got to get people in who will make moral decisions about things like LNG.

Another such decision was, of course, to have the deportees due to immigration infractions, all aggregated on the Tideflats. We have a for-profit prison for immigrants on the Tideflats. Now the LNG plant will be built right next to it. If there’s an incident, it will knock that prison flat. The guards are allowed to escape; the prisoners are not. They are going to take refuge right there, locked in. It could be a horrendous incident if it happened, or when it happens.

We are trying to give LNG a 50 year lease. Now during that time there is probably about a 40% chance that we’ll have an incident, and the incident could be huge and catastrophic. Meanwhile, of course, the LNG plant poses the ideal target for terrorists. It’s a soft target. It’s easy. And as technology gets better with drones and so forth it will be more and more vulnerable from various kinds of places.

This is not the Tacoma we want. Whether we are rich or poor, if we have any feeling at all for Tacoma, this is not the direction we want to go, deportation centers for immigrants and LNG plants beside them. This place is going to become another industrial toilet just as it was long ago. So now is the time to change, and we really need elected officials who will make good decisions, make moral decisions. This is basically immoral what PSE is intending to do. It is for the profit and benefit of some guy in Australia, and we are succumbing to it. We shouldn’t.



"NO LNG": A Christmas Carol

NO LNG: A Christmas Carol from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.

Holidays are the time to reflect on the past and look to the future. Today, the people of Tacoma continue to clean the remnants of its distant industrial beginning while wishing for clean, safe, and sustainable world to come. This holiday season I would like to share a special Christmas carol sung by my good friend Ricardo at the "No Fracked Gas in the Port of Tacoma" rally held in on the steps of the Puget Sound Energy offices in Tacoma, December 22, 2016. If you are at all concerned about climate change, the environmental destruction caused by fracking, the risk of fires and explosions from natural gas pipelines, or industrial pollution in Tacoma, I hope you will share this and spread the word about PSE's proposed LNG plant.

Ricardo wrote the "NO LNG" Christmas carol just minutes before the rally. Only parts of the song appear in the video but I have included all of the lyrics below.

No LNG, no LNG
On Christmas eve this is our plea
We have a town
That your plant pollutes
For profits obscene to white guys in suits
And so, tonight, with efforts choral
We'd like to sing of your efforts immoral

No LNG, no LNG
It's always Tacoma that pays the fee
You've told us that
You need to peak shave
And have holy intentions
Our planet to save
But instead rate payers all will be swindled
For your Cuban cigars with Ben Franklins kindled

No LNG, no LNG
The gas you'll frack as general factota
Kills the folks in Flint and South Dakota
To permit your mess, you've made great haste
So we'll live in a toilet of chemical waste

No LNG, no LNG
And one day soon, there'll be a great blast
Which you cannot outrun no matter how fast
And the undocumenteds on the flats
Will be burned like the Jews and die like rats

No LNG, no LNG For Christ's sake leave Despised PSE

The Tacoma Methanol Plant: Interview with State Senator Jeannie Darneille

Tacoma Methanol Plant: Interview with Jeannie Darneille from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.

The proposed $3.4 billion methanol plant in Tacoma is a hot topic right now. If built, it would be the biggest thing to happen to Tacoma in years. In any case, this is a pivotal moment for the city. The city is presented with the choice between selling out to the fossil fuel industry—using natural gas obtained by fracking to produce methanol for China which will ultimately be turned into plastics, or hopefully a cleaner, greener future. Citizens are upset, not only because the plant threatens turn the clock back to a time when Tacoma was a stinky, polluted industrial town, but also because of the complete lack of transparency in the decision-making processes of the Port of Tacoma and the city government.

This is a fascinating story about an environmental issue that has global as well as local consequences. Richard Lovering approached me with the idea of documenting the events surrounding the Tacoma methanol plant controversy as they unfold. This interview with Washington State Senator Jeannie Darneille, (27th Legislative District, Ruston and Tacoma) is the first formal interview we recorded for this project. This video was made in collaboration with Katya Palladina who was the videographer.

Jeannie is a very knowledgeable articulate speaker, and her passion for this issue really showed. Right afterwards I felt I needed to edit a short video of her talking about the major points of the controversy. I felt it needed to be shared immediately to raise awareness of the issue through social media.

I am presenting the full transcript of the interview here now because Jeannie has a lot more to say than can be covered in a short video, about how the City and Port of Tacoma kept plans for the methanol plant project under wraps for 2 years, our economic relationship with China, fracking, the potential impact the methanol plant would have on water and electricity, the dangers of transporting explosive chemicals through narrow urban waterways, and of storing them on reclaimed land that could liquify in a major earthquake, and much more.

Jeannie Darneille, photo copyright © Katya Palladina
Jeannie Darneille, photo copyright © Katya Palladina

RICHARD: Jeannie, thank you so much for talking with us. So how did you come across this issue of the proposed methanol plant in Tacoma?

JEANNIE: Well, it was kind of interesting. As an elected official I was in the House of Representatives for 12 years, and have now been in the Senate. This is now my 4th year in the Senate, here in the 27th district in Tacoma. I represent about two thirds of Tacoma in this district, so basically all the area surrounding Commencement Bay from Point Defiance around to Browns Point, and then like a sling shot handle going down the east side, but all of Downtown Tacoma, all of the Tideflats. And for most of that time I also represented the City of Fife. During this recent redistricting that was pared off, and I added another section of Southeast Tacoma, but for longest time I had also represented that community.

So when I had a constituent call me from Northeast Tacoma and express concerns about this plant that has the potential to go in our Tideflats region, that piqued my interest because the person outlined concerns about safety. Public health, public safety—these are issues that I’ve worked on for years and years, not necessarily around the environmentalist angle however. I did get interested enough to follow their request, which was to come to a hearing at the Port of Tacoma on May 1st, 2014.

As I mentioned, I’ve never really been much of an environmentalist. By that I mean that I have a 100% voting record supporting environmental causes, but I’ve never taken the lead on ferreting out all the information about environmental conflicts, nor have I taken the lead in sponsoring legislation. I always had great advice and great experts in my caucuses and I followed their lead, just as they follow my lead on half a dozen other kinds of issues. This was new to me, but the issue of public safety and the concerns of a neighborhood were definitely things I had worked on before. And the issues about public health have been pretty much central to my work in the legislature.

So I tried to find out information about the hearing. I went so far as to go to the website for the Port of Tacoma. I did find reference to a meeting taking place. It told me what the agenda was going to be and included this discussion with the Northwest Innovations Works, LLC. It didn’t tell me the place and didn’t tell me the time. And that was my first inkling that this was not an issue that the proponents wanted to have known in the community. I was not deterred by that. I had my staff call their office and find out when the meeting was taking place and where, and to inform them that they didn’t have the information on their website.

I rushed over because it happened to be that afternoon. I arrived there at the very end of a queue of people lining up into a rather small room, the conference room for the Port of Tacoma. I arrived at the meeting and signed in to testify. In the legislature we are used to having hearings on bills and there are some controversial subjects where we might have hundreds and hundreds of people signed up to testify, or at least signing in with either a "pro" or a "con", so I was surprised after almost being late for the meeting that i was actually only number 17 to sign up. I had no idea what I would actually say, because I didn’t know anything about the project, nor who any of the players were, but I sat down in this somewhat small room.

Every wall with the room was lined with members of unions who were dressed in their hazard clothes—bright oranges, bright yellows, bright greens—and I knew then who at least one of the players was that had an interest in this proposed leasing of the old Kaiser plant site in the Port of Tacoma to this LLC.

So I listened to the testimony. It started with 4 or 5 representatives of Northwest Innovation Works, and then there were many representatives from labor unions talking about the construction jobs, and then the jobs that would be for permanent employees that would manage the plant after it went live.

I was bringing up the rear after only a couple of my constituents from Northeast Tacoma spoke, two couples. Their testimony basically was exactly what they told me on the phone. They live in an area very close to where the plant would be established. They drive by—there is one access road up to Northeast Tacoma, and it’s very, very close to where the plant is located. They were very concerned about any potential leakage into the Hylebos waterway. They were concerned about air contamination. And they were mostly concerned about what the plans were in case there is a catastrophic event.

When I actually got up to speak I began with this sentence: “I believe this is a project that everyone would love to love. We’ve heard that it provides good jobs. We’ve heard that it would positively impact the environment—the global warming that we are becoming so much, unfortunately, accustomed to. But there are significant gaps in information. You have done nothing, as far as I can see, to reach out to elected officials. You’ve done nothing to reach out to neighborhoods that would be impacted if such a catastrophic event were to take place. And I can’t see how this can move forward until education, dialogue, and advancement of transparency well above what you’ve demonstrated thus far, were to take place.”

And then the hearing concluded with the four members that were present at the commission meeting voting unanimously to award a 30-year lease to the LLC, this after several of us had made the plea to just wait. What was the urgency of voting on this at that meeting? Well, quite frankly, the urgency was they wanted to do it ahead of any public dialogue, ahead of any transparency and ahead of any kind of education to the community.

So I left there feeling concerned but also recognizing how little I knew about the issue. I needed to self-educate. I needed to reach out and find more information about this whole issue. How do we get liquified natural gas (LNG) into our county? What is this process of transference? And what is ahead for us in terms of the educational process that needs to take place?

One of the challenges in being a legislator is you have to recognize that sometimes a little bit of information makes you dangerous. I didn’t want to come off as being dangerous after a short amount of time. So I took quite a while talking with people.

I had the opportunity to meet with a person who just moved to Tacoma who worked in the LNG field for 30 years and had retired here in Tacoma. I had the opportunity to learn about some of the real catastrophic events that can happen at sea (he was a ship’s captain also as part of his work), coming into ports, and going through narrow waterways. I heard words of caution from him about whether or not a plant like this had any place at all in an urban center. I was piqued by that and did research into how communities had addressed this issue.

Of course, there is very little to know about communities that have worked on this because it’s new. Fewer than 10 years ago the United States was an importing nation. We imported liquid natural gas. It was only through the inauguration of fracking that we found reserves that not only were sufficient, or had been deemed to be sufficient, for our own domestic use, but are very marketable, and we became and exporting nation.

There is lots of controversy obviously about fracking. One of the things I learned about fracking is that it takes requires a very small sand, a very dense sand, that’s used in the actual fracking process to push the gas out towards an area where it can be drained and put in a reservoir. That small sand only comes from 3 areas of the world: two of those mines are in China and one is in Kuwait.

So then I started thinking, let’s follow the bouncing ball here. Who takes the risk? Who pays for it? And what is involved in this whole process of fracking? You follow the sand into the country. It goes to the central part of our country—Oklahoma, Tennessee, wherever they are fracking—and it’s used there in the process of bringing that liquified natural gas to the surface, at great cost potentially to the environment in each of those states. Earthquakes in Oklahoma—not a normal occurrence! So then where does it go? Then we ship it through pipelines and it comes to a town like Tacoma.

There are many pipelines across the country. We’ve had pipelines moving gas and moving liquified natural gas through our community for years and years and years. Most people don’t know that we have a refinery on the Tideflats right now that for over 50 years has pumped gas—jet fuel—out to McChord Air Force Base, across the east side of Tacoma through neighborhoods, along a railway track for 50 years. There is a constant process of making sure that that pipeline is not leaking. Part of it is above ground. Part of it is below ground. That same thing is happening across our country with pipelines now. There is great cost to the maintenance of the pipelines so that they don’t cause a catastrophe.

Then you look at where this natural gas is coming from, and what the process for transforming it to methanol and shipping it to China. The proponents of this plant and this relationship with the Chinese government say that this is an incredible opportunity for the citizens of Tacoma and Pierce County, that it is a $3.4 billion private investment in our community. I have no problem—no problem—confronting that piece of this argument. This is not “private money”. China owns the American debt. This is a situation where we are buying a product from China, bringing it here, fracking our country, taking the gas out, bringing it here, changing it into a product that they want, and shipping it back to them. To their complete profit, and to our complete risk.

So now we are going to look at how do we label that? What does that process look like to you? I am enough of a historian to know that it looks an awful like the British Commonwealth to me. Took over the world—a large part of the world—used local labor at a very low cost for a product that had great import to the British Commonwealth. And whether that was minerals or diamonds or you name it, they took it from those countries without their consent. We are sitting here consenting—consenting—to this process in our country.

RICHARD: Enough that we get 200 jobs.

JEANNIE: Two hundred sixty jobs— let’s be precise. I have been a long supporter of labor causes, but I don’t understand how we look at the level of risk that is associated with this project, how we look a the level of water needed alone to actually do the transformation between liquified natural gas to methanol, and think that 260 jobs is worth that.

This plant is located very close to the city of Fife. Fife is a really interesting city. It sits and is divided by Interstate 5, but there are only 5,000 people that live in the city of Fife, and over 50,000 people come there to work every day. Five thousand people live there and 50,000 come to work there. And it’s an around the clock 24/7 kind of community through warehousing, manufacturing, casinos, gas stations, restaurants—you name it. It’s a small town, but it doesn’t feel like a small town.

This community had not been talked to by the LLC at all. There was no one from the city of Fife at that hearing May 1st, 2014. I raised the issue with members of the City Council of Fife one after the other, and none had heard of the project. Yet the Port of Tacoma commissioners had already granted a 30-year lease to this company.

You know we just had a large public hearing [the January 21st Enviromental Impact Statement Scoping Meeting in Tacoma] the about what the elements of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) would be. I was in Olympia. The session was already going on, but I was able to leave a committee hearing and barrel up the freeway to get here. It was supposed to start at 6:30 PM. It started at 5:30 because they opened the doors at 5:00 and the rooms were completely full at 5:30 and they felt that they needed to move ahead.

So when I arrived at 6:00 I was told there was no room at the inn—not in the main room (500 seats), and not in the anteroom, which had 200-300 seats, and there were about 200 of us outside waiting for people to leave the hearing after they had spoken so that we could get in. So I got in about 6:35. I didn’t have the opportunity to hear the LLC give their presentation but by that time they had gone through the process of a “pro” speaker and a “con” speaker, a “pro” speaker and a “con” speaker. By 6:30 all they had left to hear from was the “con” speakers. While there was an occasional positive speaker in there, I was there until 10:30 and all that rest of that time there was people expressing concerns.

I went back to the legislature the next day and I asked my colleagues, “Have you ever had 1,000 of your constituents show up at one place? One place?”  No. No one had ever had this experience.

I was so struck that night by the presentations by people from my district, the people who had lived in this community for 3 and 4 generations, and the people that were brand new to this community who moved here because of the hope and the promise that community gave to them—the affordability, the friendliness, the fact that it had had a lousy reputation in the past, and it had a better reputation today. I listened to the people that had participated in building our downtown, not the structures that are there, but the ones that were empty in the 1980s and are full again now because of the the investments that government made and the local community made in rebuilding, reenergizing, and reinvesting in this promise that is Tacoma. From the University of Washington Tacoma, the reboot of our Federal Building, the light rail—I mean I could go on and on about the ways I love my city. And all of that is threatened by this plant. This one thing.

The young people that spoke, the older people that spoke, the Native Americans that spoke all pointed to that one stark reality, which is that we have everything going for us in this community. We have a vibrant museum district. We have a vibrant Port of Tacoma. We have invested in cleaning up waterways, and really making our city strong. And for this plant to undo the progress that has been made in Tacoma, Washington, or even to threaten to do that, should move any policymaker who is still on the fence about whether or not to support this project.

I had already made my decision before I went in that room. The Port Commissioners had asked me not to speak against the project. They wanted me to wait—as they did all of the policy makers in Pierce County—wanted us to wait until all the facts were out. And yet I haven’t received any new facts from their side of the argument since they promised to give new facts to us. The die was cast for me. But I was just so amazed—the eloquence of my constituents was the frosting on that for me.

I will tell you that I am petty much alone right now in terms of actively voicing, and advocating to my constituents that they need to know more about this project, and they need to mobilize.

I have talked to my colleagues in other districts in the state who have undertaken big projects like this before, trying to stop negative programs from coming into their districts. I spoke with Senator Sharon Nelson who is our minority leader in the Senate Democratic Caucus. She lives on Vashon island. She certainly knows a lot about ASARCO and the horrible effects on her community right across the waterway from where the ASARCO plant had existed, and which now quite frankly is a lovely and evolving, amazing walkable community with lots of amenities which once was a slag heap and a disaster zone. I talked with senator Christine Rolfes from Kitap county where the NASCAR industry had decided they wanted to put up a new NASCAR race track in a rural part of Kitsap county. Her project with trying to rebut that offer took a couple, three years. Senator Nelson’s attempts to end a quarry upsetting the environmental and ecological balance on Maury Island took 9 years.

So I think we are in this for the long haul. I don’t think this is going to be a one or two year project for us, to say “No” and mean it, and to be successful in bringing more people to our side and more policymakers to our side, and for the general public to become more aware of this project. It’s certainly going to be an issue that divides our community. I don’t want that to happen, but I think it’s got the kind of magnitude that we are going to see sharp differences from one side to another.

RICHARD: Do you think it will impact on electoral politics?

JEANNIE: Yes, I absolutely do think it could impact on electoral politics.

RICHARD: Specifically where?

JEANNIE: This project is in the 27th district now, whether the public health threats reach outside the 27th district—certainly they do—Fife now, for instance. Right at the border where the plant will be located is in the 25th district. So far, no legislators have come to any meetings nor have they shown much interest in this topic from the 25th district.

But our two representatives from here in the 27th district have met with me and others. They’ve been working with me to write a very long letter to the EIS process so that we could have questions that have been asked of us and make sure those questions are answered in the EIS. I think we are moving together as a delegation on this to some degree. I’m not going to speak for my colleagues until they want to be spoken for, but we’re not in full accord yet, and we certainly have not had a discussion about next steps in terms of how this will proceed for our role in it.

It could play in electoral politics, certainly. Any of us could have candidate run against us this year from the other side of the topic. And I would venture to say I will lose labor support in my re-election bid. But if I were to look just to Facebook and see now literally scores of people from this movement—scores of constituents I didn’t know but who saw me at the hearing, who have seen what I had written on Facebook, who heard me talk about this issue who are trying to friend me and keep up with where I am on this issue, I would say this is a movement that will have its roots and its success in social media.

This is not something that many campaigns have had to grapple with, quite frankly. It’s a whole new world with social media now, and the tweets and the Facebook posts are going to rule in this educational process . We already see how innovations in social media have influenced and energized and mobilized groups around other topics, including race relations and even responding to the weather and threats of the weather. We can see it working to the good, and I think it will be an excellent tool that will be used to educate the community about the threats of this plant going in.

RICHARD: What I’ve heard you say is so many times it was a question of getting the word out. It is to the methanol plant proponents not to get the word out generally, and it is to those who are opposing it to get the word out generally. What do you foresee is the best way to get the word out as generally as possible?

JEANNIE: I think that it’s a continuation of things that have already been done. I’d love to teach an Advocacy 101 class to folks who are just new into this whole field, in trying to mobilize and trying to make a force for good. I think there is a great threat that they will do some things wrong that will negatively impact what they are trying to achieve. So I’d like to caution people that this is a process. We won’t fix it in a day. Be calm. Use some good strategy to move forward, but be persistent in messaging.

Years ago our Caucus in Olympia had hired a consultant to try to figure out what was the message the Democrats wanted to portray. He came to do a strategy session with us and said, “Well I looked at last year’s messaging, and the Republican party had three messages, and the Democratic party had 83 messages.”

So it’s very important for us to know what we want to say, and to repeat that over and over and over again, whether it is spinning an argument, or pivoting it to that message over and again. It wasn’t overnight that people learned that “two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onions-on-a-sesame-seed-bun” was a Big Mac! It won’t be overnight that people learn that this is a project that has potential threats to our community, our air, our water. It has a blast zone that has been drawn to me. The room we are in now is within this blast zone. And that it could take out portions of Marine View Drive which is the one access road into Northeast Tacoma. It could take out Route 509, which was built to provide a parallel road to Interstate 5 so that the locals could move around and let the other folks fight for space on I-5. It could take out portions of I-5 where the state is now going to be investing over a billion dollars in a transportation project to finish Route 167, which will be coming in and hooking into the Port of Tacoma for the transportation of good and services in and out of the Port to improve our economic development. It’s going to have the impact of potentially (and certainly within the blast zone as well) to take out a prison, a federal prison that exists on the Tideflats where 1,500 persons are being detained right now. I can’t imagine what kind of exit plan would be sufficient to continue to have public safety and to provide for personal safety for those 1,500 people, and the hundreds of people that are working at that detention center.

You know, there is a reason why the City of Tacoma has never granted permits to build condos on the other side of the 11th Street bridge. A big reason. They haven’t done it is because it is fill dirt. If you were to look at early photographs of Tacoma, you will see the point just below where we are right now, where Thea Foss used to get in her little boat and began to ferry people across where it’s now Northeast Tacoma. There were no fingers of land that went out along waterways where industry has been planted over these years.

As you know we have fault lines through this area. We have learned from the New York Times that the Big One is coming (of course, we’ve always known that) We’ve seen what a lahar could look like coming down from Mt. Rainier. We know that the Puyallup River, which comes right behind us here, is the passageway for a lahar coming off the mountain. And we know that this kind of fill in an earthquake can simply turn to dust.

We’ve always lived with threats. We have other refineries on the Tideflats, but we’ve never had people living there for a reason. It’s not safe. And yet a former city council passed a resolution accepting an offer from the federal government to place a detention center in that same property where people from Tacoma cannot live.

There are all kinds of deals that happen like that over the years that only later are the people of Tacoma made aware. We have the opportunity because we are aware now before the plant is built, before the plant is operational, before the first drop of liquified natural gas makes its way into the plant and gets blasted with 11 million gallons of water a day, and before the first ship leaves into our Commencement Bay, once one of the biggest EPA Superfund sites. We have cleaned it up to a large degree. We have cleaned up the Foss Waterway. We have cleaned up the Kaiser plant upon which this plant will be located if it’s implemented.

I asked a question last week of our staff in Olympia when we were having a presentation by the Department of Ecology. I asked if any of the cleanup dollars, the millions and millions and millions of dollars that have come out of taxpayers pockets that we have used for cleaning up toxic sites, “Have we ever cleaned up the same site twice?” And the answer of course was “No”. And then there was the, “Why? Are we building something toxic on one of the sites we’ve cleaned up?” And I had to answer “Yes”.

There is so much more that I could talk about. I’ve not really talked about the threats to children and the threats to other investments that we’ve made in the waterway. But I would say I feel very optimistic about the people of Tacoma and Pierce County, and even our neighbors just over the hill in South King County, just to our left on Maury Island and Vashon Island, to rise up with us and have our voices known in this effort.

I’ve talked with the Governor twice about this. I’ve talked with the Governor’s staff twice for about an hour about this project. I believe I’ve opened the Governor’s eyes to something he initially supported, which was a “jobs and environmentally friendly” product.

The goal of the Chinese government is to take the methanol that they will receive from this project, and convert a coal-burning plant that makes olefins (plastics) and convert that to a methanol-burning plant. Much fewer emissions, much better for their air quality in China and overall a good thing, were we able to have access to clean fuel at the place where we are currently using dirty fuel. In this case though, we are asking the United States to take all the risks to provide that clean fuel to this area of China. Unfortunately, they don’t have the materials to do that themselves domestically. But I don’t think Tacoma, Washington is the location. And I think that the people of Tacoma will make that loud and clear.

RICHARD: Given that this plant is going to demand just about as much gas electricity and potable water as the entire rest of Tacoma, couldn’t his mean that utility rates could go up on all of those things for everybody living in Tacoma?

JEANNIE: It is absolutely true, and no doubt that they will have increased utilization of utilities that currently come in to Tacoma. The rates are established based on the old supply and demand kind of analysis. We have got the supply of water we need to create electricity through turbines that are located outside of Tacoma but in our watershed, which includes Lake Cushman, Lake Alder, the Green River. We operate on hydro—that’s the major source for electricity for this whole basin. If we were to have a user come in to our mix that is going to double the utilization of that water. Double. We’ve got well over a million people that live in this catchment area. One plant is going to double utilization. There is no way that that’s not going to increase our rates. We don’t have sufficient water, freshwater, in the watershed for our current needs. Everyone knows that last summer we were asked to reduce our consumption by 10%. That was voluntary. What happens if we face another hot summer, another year of drought? Well during the course of the life of this plant—30, 40, 50 years—we are going to face many years of drought. There is no question in my mind. The citizens of Tacoma will have to ask our utilities to go elsewhere, since the water table will not be sufficient for that kind of utilization. We will have to purchase that energy from another area. We currently have one of the cheapest forms—hydro—but what if we have to purchase something that is more expensive? Yes, our rates could go up.

Do you know that every Friday afternoon there are families lined up today at our utility office asking for, petitioning for keeping their lights on over the weekend, keeping their heat on over the weekend, while they try to muster enough money to pay their bill?

We have a community that is facing economic challenges. It’s not unlike in many ways the communities elsewhere in the country that have been the locations of these kind of plants. We know that this particular company wants to build another plant in southwest Washington on the Columbia River in a community that has been hard pressed by economic disadvantage—Kalama.

We don’t have to look too far for the other plant in their 3-plant proposal, which is in Louisiana, along an area that is called “Cancer Alley” because of the types of plants that have been built there over the years, which is a largely a community of economically disadvantaged individuals living there.

If this bad air quality drifts as the wind is blowing right now to our east side of Tacoma, it blows into our most economically disadvantaged portion of our county.

So there are issues around rates. We have issues around economic security. We have issues around public education and the transparency of this whole project that have created enough concern for me that I have actually proposed legislation that really has—I’ll say right up front—has little chance of being passed. I dropped a bill as soon as I could after I realized that I could actually request that a particular tax be applied to this project.

They, under current structures right now, could quality for a sales tax abatement. In other words they won’t pay sales tax on any kind of manufacturing that they do, any kind of building that they do. This has been largely an economic development tool that the state has used to try to attract companies into coming into Washington. But in this case it could obviously backfire for us. It has brought into our midst not one, but two plants proposed in Washington state by this particular LLC.

So I proposed that the tax abatement not apply to projects relating to liquified natural gas being converted into methanol. That bill was referred to the Trade and Economic Development Committee. I thought because it was a tax bill that it would be referred to the Ways and Means Committee which I serve on, but instead it is going to a committee that has already completed its work for the session. It was a direct decision on the part of the Republicans handling which committee things go to, to not place it in a committee that was still doing its work.

That is a disappointment. But I have raised the interest and the awareness of my colleagues in this fight. And because I know that this will not be taken care of in this year, I presume I will come back next year with something earlier in the session with a greater potential to be passed, and we will see where that takes us.

There is also a bill currently being considered that is a “streamlining” bill, meaning that, for what they call “projects of state significance” (certainly a project of $3.4 billion project has state significance) the bill would take away their requirement to actually receive permits or even have to apply for permits for the plant. I have worked with Republicans on an amendment to their bill. They are going to be accepting the amendment if all works out well this next week and the bill will pass. It is a bill I voted against obviously in the past, and I will probably still vote against it even though I’ve got it amended. It will hopefully go to its death over in the House. Again, what we do with these kinds of things, whether it’s dropping a bill or getting an amendment on a bill, in some ways we are trying to make the pig look better — you know, “putting a bow on the pig”. But we’re going to be able to count on the House to not pass that bill which they have rejected in the past, so we won’t see industries of all types getting out of doing permitting processes that we are relying on right now as we look ahead to how this plant will be implemented. There are shoreline permits. There are air permits. I mean there are all kinds of things ahead of them.

RICHARD: I think they devoted 3 years for the permitting.

JEANNIE: Just to the permitting. I’ve got time as well if I’m re-elected to go back to Olympia and continue to try to figure out what a state role would be, in trying to put sideboards around this project, to eliminate the project, to make so many headaches for the project that it doesn’t pencil out. Whatever I can do.

"LOVE WINS": The World Environment Day Luminary Flotilla Concert

World Environment Day Luminary Flotilla Concert from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.

Katya and I paddled to concert on the water last night, which was held as part of the ongoing protest against the Port of Seattle hosting Royal Dutch Shell's oil drilling rig the Polar Pioneer. The musicians performed on a barge anchored right off of Don Armeni Park in West Seattle. You could hear the music from shore but the audience was encouraged to listen from kayaks on the water. Afterwards, the flotilla of  kayaks, SUPs, and other human-powered boats illuminated with deck lights and lanterns gathered together for a spectacular parade.

I think it might not have been a very well-publicized event because Katya and I had only heard about it four days before. Just like we did during the ShellNo protest, we put in at Alki Beach far away from the park to avoid the crowd and any problems finding parking. We had lights inside our skin on frame kayaks which turned our kayaks into lanterns. Some people were lighting sky lanterns and releasing them over the water. Although breezy at first, after sunset the water calmed down and it turned into an incredibly beautiful evening for paddling. 

The song on the video is Native American flute player and storyteller Paul Cheoketen Wagner.

Meet the Kayaktivists

Meet the Kayaktivists from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.

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Protesters for environmental and social justice causes are often described as hippies, anarchists, pot heads, hipsters, and unemployed losers dependent on government assistance. Alternatively, they are labelled as idealistic, privileged college kids, still too naive to understand how the world really works. This stereotyping is a mental shortcut intended to distract from, and dispel any interest in, the actual issues to which protestors are attempting to bring attention.

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In the case of the Paddle in Seattle protest against the Port of Seattle hosting Royal Dutch Shell’s exploration oil rig, the Polar Pioneer, the most common label I have heard thrown at the kayaktivists is “hypocrite”:  

“Don’t they realize that that all of their colorful plastic kayaks are made from OIL? GET A JOB!”  

“I bet they all drove their cars to the protest. #IRONY.”

The argument assumes that the kayaktivists oppose the use of all and any petroleum products on principle. It’s the first - and usually the only - argument offered, as if simply calling the protestors “hypocrites” completely invalidates the argument that offshore drilling in the arctic both risks damaging fragile ecosystems and will contribute significantly to global climate change.


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No one can escape using petroleum products and still live in the modern world. We have few choices in this, in large part because the oil companies have always fought to limit the availability of alternative fuels (whether it is electric or biofuel) to preserve their monopoly and keep us addicted. But just because you use plastic or drive a car doesn't mean that you don’t have the right to speak out against a dangerous trend in continuing oil exploration and development and fight to stop it.

In an interview in The Nation, Harvard historian Naomi Oreskes stated that during the era of American slavery, “people in the North wore clothes made of cotton picked by slaves. But that did not make them hypocrites when they joined the abolition movement. It just meant that they were also part of the slave economy, and they knew it. That is why they acted to change the system, not just their clothes.”

For this video I wanted to interview people on the water and show what they were really like, and find out why they were out there. Each person involved in the Paddle in Seattle had his or her their own reasons to protest the presence of the Polar Pioneer. One is the lack of the public’s participation in the Port of Seattle’s decision to allow Shell to park the Polar Pioneer at Terminal 5. Even Seattle’s ex-mayor Mike McGinn stated that the Port commissioners knew that their decision would be controversial, so they kept the negotiations secret and ran the decision through quickly to limit time for public input.

Another concern is that offshore drilling risks another massive spill like the Deepwater Horizon incident, involving a company that already has suffered from an incident involving an exploration vessel running aground when the engines of a tow ship failed during a storm while it was being towed to Seattle, and a number of safety violations related to arctic exploration. The harsh conditions and remoteness of the arctic would make dealing with a major spill difficult.

Of course a big concern is the impact continued oil exploration and development will have on climate change. A recent study in the journal Nature concluded that exploitation of the arctic oil reserves would threaten our ability to keep the average global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, the tipping point where one would expect widespread coastal flooding, animal and plant extinctions, and a severe impact on global agriculture. In fact, Shell’s own internal documents estimate a 4 degree Celsius rise in average global temperature in the short term, rising to 6 degrees in the long term.


The kayaktivists we interviewed:

Rob West is a scientist/biomedical researcher and Seattle resident. He paddles a beautifully-crafted Brian Schulz F1 skin-on-frame kayak.

Colin Miller is a residential carpenter/contractor and Seattle resident. He paddles a classic wooden Pygmy stitch-and-glue kayak. The Paddle in Seattle is the first time he has ever been active in a protest.

Felicia Wibowo is a software engineer. She owns the original black Dubside IceKap designed by Sterling Donalson of Sterling Kayaks. The original portrait of Dubside has been painted over.

Milla Prince is a resident of Lopez Island and paddles Greenland style. She is a writer, community organizer, a life-long environmentalist and wild-crafter, and holds a degree in filmmaking.


The Maury Island Mine: The Commissioner of Public Lands Speaks

Construction of pilings for a new dock at the Maury Island gravel pit commences.
Construction of pilings for a new dock at the Maury Island gravel pit commences.


The battle over the Maury Island gravel mine continues! 
While I was paddling over there the other day I noticed that the barge and pile driver were gone, but there was still plenty of activity on shore.  
The good news is that the new Democratic Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark is going to do a full review of the decision by the previous Public Lands Commissioner (Republican Doug Sutherland) to lease the public tidelands to Glacier Northwest to allow them to build a dock that will transfer the gravel to barges for transport up the Sound. Even though Glacier Northwest stands to make millions from of this mine, former Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland (R) leased the land to Glacier for an unbelievable price of $1500!  By the way, he had received $50,000 in campaign contributions from Glacier last year.

The following is the response from Peter Goldmark to a message that my friend Richard Lovering sent regarding the mine:

RE: Maury Island Tidelands Lease Midnight Politics 
Date: Tue, 24 Feb 2009 15:54:42 -0800 
From: [email protected] 
CC: [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected] 

February 24, 2009

Dear Mr. Lovering:

Thank you for your email expressing concern over the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) aquatic lands lease for Glacier Northwest on Maury Island. Like you, I also have concerns regarding how this dock will impact the long term sustainability of Puget Sound. Although this lease was signed under the former Commissioner of Public Lands, I and other Washingtonians expect due diligence. So, I have directed my staff to review the lease to ensure the lease is consistent with the long-term sustainability and health of Puget Sound. DNR is reviewing this lease for consistency with the Puget Sound partnership's Action Plan. I have also asked my staff to examine the lease rent amount. A corporation making millions of dollars from the gravel transported through an access point on state lands should be compensating the citizens of the state more than $1,500. In addition, under my administration, DNR will follow three guiding principles in its decision making: sustainably manage our natural resources, conduct our work in the public's interest with the public's knowledge, and ensure that sound and credible science guides all of our actions.

Please let me know if you have any further comments or questions.


Peter Goldmark,

Commissioner of Public Lands

-----Original Message-----

Sent: Friday, January 23, 2009 2:17 PM 
Subject: Maury Island Tidelands Lease Midnight Politics 
Dear Dr. Goldmark,

Finally you've arrived: congratulations on your new position, which I (with a great many others) helped you achieve. Now, on to an issue which greets you from your first official hour: Glacier Northwest and the Maury Island Tidelands lease.

Christine Gregoire has been ducking this issue from her first day in office. Her James Carville figure is the sister of Glacier's lawyer, which may or may not be relevant. In any event, our lady of the Clean Sound, Mme. Governor, has not seen fit to condemn or comment on the Glacier dock and prospective removal of 10% of Maury Island's landmass, leaving the whole mess to the tender mercies of your predecessor, M. Sutherland. We all know what he did, as he snuck away from office with his ill-gotten gains. I do not know what you can do now to prevent the destruction of habitat on Maury - or indeed if you're in sympathy with those who would protect the Maury Island tidelands and uplands; however, the south sound environmental community - Sierra Club, Audubon societies, and tree huggers of all descriptions - are looking on this as your emblematic move. Please don't disappoint us. There is little need for more gravel at this economic turn, the Taheiyo cement company of Tokyo is less in need of income than the Maury Island eagles, salmon, and orcas are in need of their environment. Please stop the dock.

Good luck in your new post; we'll all be watching to see how you handle this one.


Richard Lovering

Kayakers Stopped the Proposed Maury Island Gravel Pit Mine!


An article published on the front page of the Tacoma News Tribune today says that the mining company Glacier Northwest ran out of time yesterday to build the new dock that was going to serve their proposed gravel pit mine on Maury Island. The gravel pit mine is located 2 nm right across East Passage from where I live on Dash Point. Local island residents are concerned that the mining in the area could contaminate their water supply with arsenic that was deposited all over the Tacoma area by the old ASARCO smelter decades ago.

According to their permit, construction needed to stop on January 14th and could not resume until August 15 in order to protect spawning herring and migrating salmon. The dock supposedly is "90% done" and they were only a day short of completing it.  Some of that delay might have been due to the protesters who chained themselves across the road leading to the construction site and took to the water in kayaks: 

Opponents, some of whom have fought the gravel mining and transport project for more than a decade, have resorted to civil disobedience during the past month, chaining themselves together to block construction access. On Tuesday and Wednesday, they launched a flotilla of kayaks to get in the way of cranes and pile drivers. Glacier Northwest was forced to halt pile-driving to avoid injuring the protesters. “They were trying to maneuver themselves under the crane,” Stoltz said. “We couldn’t proceed safely with them trying to get into harm’s way.”

Of course Glacier Northwest won't admit that protesters contributed at all to the construction delay. Instead they are blaming the weather. 



Glacier Northwest is also implying that the protesters are doing more harm to the environment than the mine is, specifically by trampling on lance eggs on the beach. The News Tribune of course gives them plenty of opportunity to spew this ridiculous propaganda.  It's right out of the corporate playbook, along with characterizing protesters as "ecoterrorist" bums who can't hold down jobs, and scaring people into thinking that jobs will be lost and the local economy will suffer if Glacier can't mine there. The ultimate spin of course is to turn the the environmental issue around completely: they say that shipping gravel all the way from Canada will leave a much bigger carbon footprint than mining it here, so actually the mine is good for the environment!
I paddled over to the gravel pit mine this afternoon to see for myself.  They are actually still hard at work: only the work underwater must cease during the January 14 - August 15 period.  They will likely continue to built everything that they can above water and on land in the meantime. 
By the way, I also have issue with the title of the News Tribune article, "Battle Over Maury Island Gravel Mine Suspended". The pile driving may have stopped but I'm sure the battle is going to continue. This several months delay might allow time for legal action that will stop the mine completely.

BREAKING NEWS: Showdown on Maury Island Over Proposed Huge Gravel Pit Mine!


[Picture from today's Seattle Times]
Things are starting to get interesting across the water on Maury Island! Protesters are chaining themselves together to stop the construction of the Maury Island gravel mine. If they can prevent construction until January 14th, construction may have to be delayed until August.

For over a decade now, Glacier Northwest, the Northwest subsidiary of one of the largest cement manufacturers in the world, the Japanese-owned Teiheyo Cement corporation, has been pushing for approval to dig a giant gravel pit on Maury Island. The pit will be the largest gravel and sand mine in the nation, located right in the heart of Puget Sound. Glacier Northwest has proposed extracting 1.5 – 2 million tons of sand and gravel per year, "depending on market conditions". The gravel would be loaded onto barges, which would require the construction of a new dock on the site. 

There are a number of things that are concerning about the proposal. 

The old ASARCO smelter in Tacoma spewed lead and arsenic all over the areas north of Commencement Bay, including Federal Way, Normandy Park, Tukwila, and especially over Vashon and Maury Islands. Digging on Maury Island not only risks releasing carcinogenic dust into the air, it also reduces the buffer between the toxic soil and the aquifer and risks contaminating the aquifer with heavy metals by a direct breach during mining operations. The aquifer is only source of water for island residents. It is estimated that 10,000 gallons of water per day would be required to control the carcinogenic dust, further compromising the island water supply. 

To transport the gravel by barge a dock would be built right over the State’s only designated aquatic reserve. Maury island is one of the healthiest and least impacted marine shorelines in the state. The habitat supports migrating Chinook salmon and resident Orcas which feed in late fall and early winter months. In fact, in December 2007, Orcas were documented by the National Marine Fisheries Services in the waterways adjacent to Glacier's proposed dock on more days than they were documented at the San Juan Island's State whale watching park for the months of July and August combined. Dock construction and the subsequent barging operations would create underwater noise at levels that are harmful to the whales and other marine mammals. 

It should be noted that Glacier Northwest has paid over $600,000 in fines due to environmental violations in the past decade alone, and as recently as 2007 was fined over $200,000 for the company's discharge contamination of the Thea Foss waterway. The reality is that for major corporations, fines for environmental violations are just part of the the cost of doing business.  The potential profits are worth the risk of getting fined for breaking the rules.

Recently and right after he was voted out of office, Republican Public Lands Commissioner, Doug Sutherland, signed a 30-year lease to allow Glacier Northwest to build their new dock. I'll bet that the Maury Island issue was no small reason why Sutherland lost the election (at least that's why I voted against him).  Signing that lease was the final step needed to get the gravel mine started. The very next day I noticed a big crane working on the shore, which is a couple miles across East Passage from my neighborhood on Dash Point. The bright lights at night suggest they are working around the clock to get that dock completed.

How this can happen after governor Christine Gregoire announced a major plan to clean up Puget Sound three years ago?  It was described as the most-ambitious plan to date to clean up toxic dumps around the Sound, prevent oil spills and take other actions to revive the ailing estuary.  The gravel mine is a direct contradiction to Gregoire’s rhetoric.

Sea kayakers should take notice. If you value the health of Puget Sound and are willing to do more than make sure your septic tank is in proper working order, not wash your car in your driveway or dump your used motor oil down the drain, then educate yourself and get involved.  Spread the word and tell your friends!

Next time there is a flotilla rally, I want to be there!

Why You Should Drive Like Your Grandma


A while ago I posted on the Kayak Building Forum in a discussion about how car topping kayaks affects your MPG. I recently discovered for myself that it makes a significant difference whether I transported my kayak upside down (which probably decreases drag) than right side up. Since gas prices have gone up I started to pay attention to little details like that especially on longer trips. Then a few days ago I read this very interesting article in Mother Jones about hypermilers, these guys who have become experts at squeezing as many miles per gallon from their cars as possible by changing the way they drive. They have been in the news recently, which tended to sensationalize their more dangerous and illegal practices, like drafting behind semi trucks, not stopping at stoplights, not slowing down around curves, and turning the engine off to coast down hills. These guys can get 59 MPG using a regular Honda Accord (not a hybrid)!    

For the past several years I’ve consistently gotten no better than 42 MPG in my 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid. Yesterday though I decided to try some of these tricks. Since I have a instantaneous MPG indicator on my dash board it makes it easy to see how every little move changes my fuel consumption. Today I tested these techniques while driving around running errands, mostly gathering a few final pieces for my Joel White Pooduck Skiff. I accelerated very slowly from complete stops, taking a second to let the idling engine get the car moving without pushing on the accelerator. When I could avoid it I would never stop completely at stop signs. I tended to drive slower, at whatever speed I seemed to get the best mileage. One advantage to driving slowly is that you don’t have to push on the breaks because there is someone driving slower in front of you. Breaking is a waste of momentum. I tried not to break going around curves. I put my car in neutral (but kept the engine on) going down hills. With a hybrid engine, keeping the car in "drive" and coasting down a hill recharges the battery, but I found that in neutral I go farther faster. I tried to anticipate stop lights. If a light in front of me turned red, I would immediately let off the accelerator and coast toward it. I used cruise control on the freeway. I chose parking spots that were on high ground and that faced out so that when I left I could just put the car in neutral and coast down to the street without putting the car in reverse, stopping, then going forward (really). I kept the air conditioner off until I needed it. I did not draft behind semi trucks.
Well after about 50 miles in mixed freeway and city driving I averaged an incredible 52 MPG! And this was due entirely to my first clumsy attempt at changing my driving habits.  Can you imagine if everyone improved their fuel efficiency by 10 MPG?  I didn’t have to do anything at all to my car, like strip out the seats, take off my roof rack, or even make sure the tires were inflated or change the oil. Hypermiling really works! And it’s something you can do right now. In fact I recommend you do it right now. You don’t need a hybrid car to make it work, although you really should have a real-time read out of your MPG. It also requires a paradigm shift in driving. Say goodbye to the NASCAR culture. You can’t think of driving as a race anymore, where you aggressively push toward your destination in the fastest time possible, speeding up just to stop and wait at the next traffic light, and where every other car around you and the speed limits are there just to get in your way.